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Trucking companies see not-too-distant future for battery-electric trucks

‘Two places we think we’ll see electric [trucks] grow initially: intermodal dray and then absolutely in the dedicated space.’

FreightWaves' Alan Adler (left) chats with NFI's Bill Bliem (center) and Scheider's Rob Reich (right) in this fireside chat.

FIRESIDE CHAT TOPIC: Early experiences with battery-electric fleets. 

DETAILS: Bill Bleim of NFI Industries was involved in the very early tests of Class 8 electric trucks. Bleim knows their limitations and what roles they perform best. Rob Reich of Schneider has less experience, but both companies are proving where electrified transportation fits in the heavy-duty freight world.

SPEAKERS: Bill Bliem, senior vice president of fleet services at NFI; and Rob Reich, EVP and chief administrative officer for Schneider.

BIOS: Bliem oversees the end-to-end management and maintenance of NFI’s truck fleet and material handling equipment. He and his team manage NFI’s purchasing, licensing/tolls and fuel departments. NFI operates more than 4,200 tractors and over 12,000 trailers and chassis. Bliem joined NFI in 2009 as vice president of maintenance, bringing more than 30 years of fleet and maintenance experience to the company.

Reich has served as Schneider’s chief administrative officer since 2019, having previously served as senior vice president of equipment, maintenance and driver development. He has held several senior leadership positions during his tenure at Schneider across the maintenance, human resources, driver development, and driver training and safety areas. Additionally, Reich has served on the board of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency since 2015 and been its chair since 2017.


Bliem: “I think that the funding opportunities, not only in California but around the rest of the country, are going to need to be in play for at least two, three, four years if we want to see wide-scale deployment.”

Bliem: “What we’re finding is that once [the drivers] get over that range anxiety and get in these trucks, it’s kind of hard to get them out of them. … They love the power behind them. They love the quietness. They love not coming home smelling like diesel [but instead] just the comfort of the ride [and] not sitting over top of a hot engine or sitting behind a hot engine. They’re really enjoying the electric trucks.”

Reich: “We’ve had to rethink just operationally how trucks get assigned. Historically, two drivers shared one truck because you didn’t have a lot of time to transition. Now we know it’ll be more of a next truck up as they get fully charged. And so, [there are] slightly different operations we’ve had to think about from a truck assignment standpoint, and we’ll have to work with our drivers on that. But we think we’ve got the right plan in place and the right infrastructure in place to support that.”

Reich: “We’ve set some aggressive sustainability goals. For example, by 2035 our goal is to reduce our emissions per mile by 60%. And as we worked on that goal, we really came to the conclusion that by 2035 all of our day cabs would be electric. And so you think about where those day cabs are in our business — that’s a significant portion of our intermodal drayage. So, it’s a great first opportunity in California. We expect that to expand over the years across the country. I also think a lot of our dedicated business actually will fit well. It’s not as high range. It’s frequently out and back. … So, that’s really the two places we think we’ll see electric  [trucks] grow initially: intermodal dray and then absolutely in the dedicated space.”

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.